Angiogram of the Legs or Arms

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This is a procedure used to evaluate the blood flow of the arteries in the arms or legs. Using image-guidance, doctors can determine if there is damage to or a blockage of blood flow in an artery. This is helpful in diagnosing certain conditions such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessel) or damage caused by trauma. This helps doctors in planning for future interventions, including vascular procedures (such as stent placement) or surgery.

Need to Know

Nice to Know
  • Do not eat or drink anything at least eight hours before the procedure
  • If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor beforehand about adjusting or stopping this medication
  • Do not take aspirin or other pain relievers, such as Ibuprofen, for five days before the procedure
  • Tell your technologist about any allergies, especially to local or general anesthetics and contrast materials (“x-ray dye”)
  • Inform your technologist if you are pregnant
  • If you have diabetes or kidney disease you may not be a good candidate for this procedure. Please discuss the risks and benefits of angiography with contrast dye with your physician
  • Before your procedure, you’ll meet with your Jefferson Radiology physician for a consultation
  • You will be given a gown to wear during this procedure
  • You will be awake during this procedure and can go home afterward

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How Does It Work?

Your physician will insert a small catheter (a long, thin tube) into your arteries and inject contrast material (also called dye). Then, using fluoroscopy, a form of X-rays that can see movement in real time, your doctor will evaluate the blood flow in your arms or legs.

What Happens — Before, During, and After?

When you arrive for your procedure a nurse will greet you and let the team know you’ve arrived. You will be brought into an exam room and asked to change into a gown. Your doctor will greet you, explain the procedure and answer any questions you may have.

You will be asked to empty your bladder before the procedure begins. You will lie on an exam table for the procedure. The technologist or nurse will help you get as comfortable as possible as you will need to lie very still during the procedure. The nurse or technologist will connect monitors for your heart rate, blood pressure, and pulse, and an intravenous (IV) line will be inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will be used to give you sedatives during the procedure.

The technologist will shave, sterilize, and cover the area with a surgical drape. The area will then be numbed using a local anesthetic. You may feel a tiny pinch when the anesthesia is administered.

Guided by fluoroscopy imaging, your doctor will make a tiny incision in your skin and insert a catheter into your arteries. You may feel some pressure as the catheter is inserted but no real pain. Once the catheter is in place, your doctor will inject contrast material that will make your blood vessels visible on the X-rays. You may feel a warm sensation as the contrast material is injected.

With the assistance of the fluoroscopic images, your doctor will then evaluate the flow of blood in your arm or leg and diagnose any potential hardening or blockages. This exam can take anywhere from an hour to several hours to complete.

Once the exam is finished, the catheter will be removed and pressure will be applied for several minutes to the wound to stop any bleeding. You will not require stitches. Your intravenous line will be removed and you will be taken to a recovery area to rest. When you feel ready you will be able to go home. You will need someone to drive you home if you have been sedated.

Your doctor will discuss any results with you and talk to you about any follow-up appointments you may need.

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How Should I Prepare?

There are things you can do to make your experience more comfortable, and many of these will depend on your individual preferences. You might like to keep a list of questions or — as you’re doing now — educate yourself about the procedure.

Some other things to keep in mind in planning for this procedure include:

  • You will need to arrange to have someone drive you home after the procedure
  • Your doctor may ask you to stop taking aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), or blood thinners (such as Coumadin or warfarin) for a time before the procedure
  • The day before the procedure (or the Friday before, if you’re scheduled for a Monday procedure), a nurse from your doctor’s office will call you. The nurse will give you any additional instructions, and will ask if you have any questions.
  • When you arrive, make sure the nurse or doctor knows about any allergies you may have, especially allergies to contrast dye and to local anesthetics, such as lidocaine. If there’s any chance you may be pregnant, tell your physician.
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What Should I Bring?

On the day of your procedure you should:

  • Avoid bringing valuables or jewelry
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing
  • Wear comfortable shoes
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What Are the Benefits and Risks?

The benefits of an angiogram could be:

  • Accurate, detailed diagnosis of vascular disease – including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or blocked arteries – or vessel damage.
  • Better diagnosis may lead to better treatment options.
  • In some cases, if there is a narrowing of an artery, treatment can be done during the angiography such as stent placement. This eliminates the need for additional procedures.
  • X-rays have little to no side-effects when used for diagnosis and no radiation remains in your body after the procedure

Some risks you should be aware of include:

  • As with any procedure there is a slight risk of infection. This is rare.
  • Risk of allergic reaction to the contrast dye used during the procedure
  • X-rays pose a slight risk of cancer from radiation
  • Slight risk of blood clotting around the catheter causing a blockage and requiring surgery
  • If you have kidney disease or diabetes you should be aware of the risk of kidney damage from contrast material. Please talk to your doctor about this risk.
  • Very rarely, the artery may be punctured by the catheter and cause bleeding

Keep in mind that this information is general. Your radiologist is the best source of information about how these risks and benefits may apply to you.

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